Urban food grower Claire Ratinon
Claire works on a number of urban food growing projects in London, as well as giving talks and workshops to inspire us all to become organic food growers. Portrait Andrew Montgomery
Earliest garden memory I am a horticultural latecomer as I only really discovered a passion for plants in my late twenties – but I did grow up in with a small garden in Surrey filled with flowers and shrubs that is still lovingly tended by my mother.
So why the late calling? Before shifting my focus towards plants, I worked in television production. After a chance encounter with a rooftop farm at Brooklyn Grange in New York City (I just happened to see a poster advertising an open day) and a couple of summers spent among the vegetables there, I decided to see whether I could change my life entirely and make it all about plants.
Horticultural heroes Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm in New York State is an amazing food grower and I am deeply inspired by the way in which her work upholds people of colour who are working with soil and plants, as well as advocating for a more sustainable and equitable food system.
Worthwhile tip for every gardener Accept that you have far less control than you think you do and work with nature, not against it – it’s better to have some slugs and weeds and fewer lettuces than to use chemicals in your garden.
Most valuable training I’ve completed a traineeship with Growing Communities and a Level 2 Qualification at Organiclea, a workers’ co-operative growing food on the edge of London – both invaluable. But I’ve learned by far the most from working alongside other gardeners and growers, asking lots of questions and being curious about how other plant enthusiasts take to their growing spaces.
Dream plant destination Mauritius. Not just because it’s in my blood but because all the plants that I try desperately to keep alive in my one-bedroom flat in east London can be found thriving joyfully outside in the ideal tropical climate there.
One easy thing to help us garden more sustainably Make your own fertilisers. By soaking nettle or comfrey in water for a few weeks, you can make you own potent (and pungent!) fertiliser tea – so no need to waste your money buying the chemical kind.
Favourite gardening books I go back to Joy Larkcom’s Grow Your Own Vegetables all the time – it is the bible on growing edible plants. I’m also a fan of Charles Dowding and his focus on developing healthy soil. His books and online content are an excellent resource.